Mask or Respirator. Which one is right for you?

Mask or Respirator. Which One is Right For You


American usage of face masks has shifted dramatically since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Initially the general public was discouraged from obtaining masks, so as not impede access to this vital but limited supply of personal protection for first responders and healthcare providers.

As we enter the fall season, polls overall indicate increased usage of face masks across all demographics and markets in the United States. Companies like General Medical Supply have worked hard and fast to make masks available for anyone who wants protection. Now, a multitude of choices are available, from 3-ply Face Masks to N95 Respirators.

What is the difference between a Mask and a Respirator?


It’s easy to recognize a 3-Ply Disposable Face Mask by its loose-fitting. The often blue, pleated non-woven polypropylene fabric has elasticized ear loops to help hold the mask comfortably close to the face and an adjustable nose piece which helps with a contoured fit. Overall, you’ll notice gaps between the mask and the wearers face.

Masks help prevent exhaled particles from reaching another person. Their primary purpose is to protect other people should the wearer exhale particles that contain the virus. Wearing a mask in public helps slow the spread of the virus and helps people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.

Other types of masks include the Surgical Mask and Medical Mask, both which offer an additional type of protection. These FDA certified masks act as a physical barrier to the penetration of bodily fluids and microorganisms from another person.

Different 3-layer masks have different particulate filtration rates which typically range from 90% to 95% to 98% efficiency.

The chief function of a mask is to keep you from spreading the virus and are suitable for daily social activities in the general public and medical reception areas.


N95 NIOSH Particulate Respirator

Respirators are designed to achieve a very close facial fit. When fitted correctly, the edges of a N95 Respirator are designed to form a seal around the nose and mouth.

The “95” means that the respirator has passed a CDC test to prevent at least 95% of particles that are at least .03 microns wide from passing through.

Some N95 Respirators come with NIOSH approval. NIOSH is the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and is an agency of the CDC. NIOSH Approved N95 Particulate Respirators have elastic bands that go around the head to assist with securing a tight fit.

KN95 Respirator

KN95 Respirators Masks meet similar requirements of the N95 Respirator and the NIOSH Approved N95 including laboratory testing to prove the filtering of microns at least .03 wide with the same 95% efficiency. They are also the same material-wise as a standard N95 or NIOSH N95 but have ear loops instead. The difference is the KN95 receives its designation from China instead of the United States. 

Keep in mind, this has nothing to do with where the respirator was manufactured. Many NIOSH-approved N95s are manufactured in China. This only refers to the country that gave the respirator its label.

The primary function of a N95 Respirator is to filter incoming air, minimizing the risk of the wearer contracting the virus and is suitable for use by multiple industries or medical facilities to filter airborne particulates.

What is the right choice for you?

All masks and respirators serve as a barrier for respiratory droplets—small particles of saliva and mucus that we spray when we talk, breathe, cough, or sneeze. Face coverings help whether it’s a non-N95 mask, N95, N95 NIOSH, or KN95.

The CDC recommends wearing masks in public when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g. grocery stores).

The CDC recommends N95 Respirators and Surgical Masks for health care workers, medical first responders and other frontline workers whose jobs put them at much greater risk of acquiring COVID-19.

Price can also be a factor in determining the right face covering for you. NIOSH approved respirators cost more than a standard N95. KN95 are an affordable alternative to N95s. And, lastly, 3-ply face masks fit almost any budget.